The follow-up to Kris Bryant’s sensational rookie season has been about more than just picking up where he left off in 2015.
Bryant’s 2015 was capped with the National League Rookie of the Year award after a season in which he slashed .275/.369/.488 in 650 plate appearances. He posted a 6.5 fWAR, which led the Cubs, and was 10th best among everyday players.
And yet, Bryant seemingly has found another level in his offensive game with an improved eye at the dish.
Perhaps you’ve noticed, or perhaps it has been lost in the cascade of positive angles about these Cubs, but Bryant is making a whole lot more contact this year than he was last year.
The subject came up in a series of Tweets over the past few days, and we thought it would make sense to dig in a little more:
2015 swstr% = 16.5
2016 swstr% = 12.0
2015 Contact% = 66.3
2016 Contact% = 75.2
— FullCountTommy (@FullCountTommy) May 5, 2016
— Adam B. (@SouvenirCity) May 5, 2016
Major hat tips to Tommy and Adam for highlighting and visualizing some of Bryant’s main improvements in his plate discipline after the Cubs’ three-game sweep of the Pirates, and heading into what would become a four-game sweep of the Nationals.
The improved eye at the plate should come as no surprise, especially considering Bryant himself was looking to make changes for the better in 2016.
Bryant entered the 2016 wanting to cut down on the 199 strikeouts he posted as a rookie, telling the Chicago Tribune that he was altering his swing, among other reasons, to eliminate some of the steepness that caused some of the swing-and-miss in his game.
Here are his early season results through Saturday’s games, via FanGraphs.
As you can see, there is a lot of green (which is good) in the differences between 2015 and 2016.
After Saturday’s win against the Nationals, Bryant had posted significant positive changes by reducing his strikeout rate, while trimming his swing rate on pitches out of the zone and swinging strikes. Meanwhile, there hasn’t been much change to Bryant’s walk rate, as he is accepting his walks once again.
With the decrease in strikeouts has come an increase in contact, which is precisely what no opposing pitcher wants to hear about a player with a 37 percent hard-hit rate and a line drive percentage that is up by nearly six percentage points in 2016.
Bryant’s 66.3 percent contact rate ranked dead last among 141 qualifying players in 2015, according to FanGraphs. That number rated him lower than some swing-and-miss types such as Joc Pederson, Chris Davis, and Ryan Howard. And while Bryant made the most of the times he made contact, being in that kind of company is far from ideal.
Fast forward to 2016 and Bryant has shown enough of an improvement to keep him out of the sub-70 percent range. It’s really a significant improvement.
He has also made major strides in contact on pitches in the strike zone. Check out his whiff rates on pitches in the zone during two-strike counts in 2016, via BrooksBaseball.net:
And for comparison, here is what it looked like in 2015.
There will always be a swing-and-miss component to Bryant’s offensive game, and it will be interesting to see how pitchers will attack the slugger in the coming months. And while baseball is a game of constant adjustments, Bryant has shown the ability to make necessary changes, so this could be a cat-and-mouse game to watch in the days, weeks and months to come.
Brett Taylor contributed to this post.